Saturday, May 14, 2005

 

Hearings End - Board to Err Later

Hearings End with Whimper
Prediction: Board Will Err Later


Thankfully, interest in the effort to introduce "Intelligent Design" to Kansas high schools reached new lows as record numbers stayed away from the last day of hearings. The Kansas City Star reported fewer than 50 visitors came to watch the last day of the hearings conducted to present I.D. to the state board of education. Previous hearings had been packed.

The issue moves to the back pages until the board takes action later this summer. Observers would be very surprised if the board does not try to undermine the conventional view of evolution by including I.D. in the state science education standards.

After giving this matter serious thought, with sympathy for the I.D. folks, it appears obvious that nothing justifies attempting to introduce these ideas into children's science education. Moreover, the arguments against it have nothing to do with the relative merits of I.D. versus purely naturalistic evolution.

Politicians and school board members cannot redefine "science" any more than they can change the definition of "history" or "English" or "art." Those definitions remain in the hands of the practitioners.

Even though scientists may not recognize the communal nature of their enterprise, it becomes obvious after even just a little thought. Science is what scientists agree it is, nothing more and nothing less. Plainly, scientists do not accept I.D. Therefore, it should not be taught as science.

If I understand the thesis of I.D, it means statistical analysis of the same sort used in SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) can apply to the information contained in a genome. The same kind of test is used to detect a pattern indicating a non-natural source.

The idea appeals on several levels: if there is a creator God, we might expect to see traces of His hand in the natural world. Prima facie, it appears reasonable to apply the same mathematical model to the data. It sounds very data driven, empirical and scientific yet supportive of faith in God. It appears to bridge the gulf between faith and science. But, of course, the same math might not apply. Radio signals are not the same thing as DNA sequences.

Neither I nor the school board members are statisticians, geneticists or biologists. Therefore we lack the capacity to subject the I.D. thesis to the rigorous mathematical analysis which would be required to evaluate its merits. We lack the ability to perform experiments to confirm or refute the findings of I.D. (What testable hypothesis flows from I.D.?)

When confronted by matters beyond our expertise, we must rely on experts to aid the formation of a valid judgment. In the case at hand, not one single recognized expert; that is, not one biologist or geneticist, testified in favor of I.D.

If I.D. actually has merit, if it can hold its own in the marketplace of ideas, then it will win adherents among scientists. Eventually, it may supplant and complement existing ideas about evolution; or maybe not. As Thomas Kuhn and others showed, scientific revolutions do not happen overnight.

The Kansas State School Board cannot force a scientific revolution by fiat.

In the meantime, I.D. should be recognized as a theory without adherents in the science community, having no place in the science classroom.

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Is the designer the designed?
 
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